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LEADERSHIP BY OBEDIENCE

Most of my ministry I have lead by vision. We are headed somewhere. There is a future destination, a mission, a goal. It’s about accomplishing something great for God that we all do together. It’s hard, but it’s fun. Everybody gets excited about it.

We’re going to start a church. We’re going to engage a nation. We’re going to bless our city. We’re going to multiply churches. We’re going to reach out to a new people group. We’re going to make disciples. We start doing it, small successes turn into big successes. Everyone starts talking about it, everyone celebrates it, everyone wants to mimic it – you even wind up going to tell others how they can also “do it.”

This isn’t bad – it’s good. Without a sense of shared commitment and enthusiasm and excitement you aren’t going to start or accomplish anything. People have a shared sense of destiny programmed in them from God to make the world a better place. Innate within every follower of Jesus is a bent to glorify God and exalt him.

The biggest challenge to the leadership in this form of leadership is egotism, arrogance, and self-centeredness. You have to resist the temptation to believe your own press and what others say about you. Deep down we all know who we are, but in our desire to be more than we are – humanly speaking – we can succumb to glorifying ourselves.

The past six years, I’ve discovered another form of leadership – I call it leadership by obedience. It’s not something you seek or even want. It’s hard. It isn’t something new, it’s something as old as creation. It doesn’t start with a dream of what can be but is the gradual realization that something is wrong, we’ve somehow gotten off the path. Everything is going great, everyone is excited – and now, maybe after a long busy work, you slow down enough to think and reflect. Is this the way it’s supposed to be?

Leadership by vision is very nuanced and “time sensitive” execution – which doesn’t always allow you to stop and look beyond what you can see with your physical eyes or immediate context.

Last month for two and a half weeks, I was alone in an ancient room in Bethlehem, Palestine. No air conditioning, no TV, just a fan, my Bible and journal – and prayer. It’s been a busy life. Though I start every day in God’s Word, prayer, and personal worship as soon as I’m finished I pick up where I left off the previous day.

Leadership by vision comes by a dream. Leadership by obedience comes from a divine nudge that calls you challenge something that’s wrong. It’s the prophetic role of leadership we don’t really practice that much in American Christianity or understand – me included.

I first experienced it when God convicted me years ago of my fear, disdain, and dislike of Muslims. I had to be reminded from God’s Word that they too were created in the image of God and were sacred as all human beings are. I had to be reminded from the Holy Spirit that God is love and I am to love and he wants me to love them. It required some necessary heart work inside of me personally. I pastor a few thousand people – they have those same negative feelings that I’ve had – how do I bring them over? Not to say I agree with everything Muslims say and do but neither for us to be driven by fear and hate, and thereby not fulfill the Great Commandment and the Great Commission. It was a very hard thing to do. So, I eased into the water. There is no map for this. Whereas leadership by vision is very focused and clear leadership by obedience is always in ambiguity. You can only follow the truth of God’s word and the direction of the Holy Spirt.

This isn’t like changing your worship style, leadership structure, or ministries – this is changing culture. Changing culture demands the highest level of leadership because you have to hear God moment by moment and you are going somewhere that you can’t raise money for or fire people up over. “Hey everybody today is going to be awesome – I want you to think of the person you are most fearful of or that you dislike the most and we are going to bless them!” I wasn’t ready for all the attacks I received both from within our church and outside of it.

I experienced it again when God began to speak to me about how me and our church works all over the world, but for the most part our church was anglo. There are over 50,000 non-Anglo’s that live in my area of nearly 500,000 people – do they matter? It’s just 10%, they can come to our church if they want! It took more than that – we began to intentionally and ethnically diversify our church. It was also a very hard thing to do, but the right thing to do. It would have been easy to just let happen what happens, but this was something that would never change on it’s own, it demanded intentionality. Nobody is going to encourage you to address things like this – if anything they’re going to tell you to be careful, change is slow and long, and in time it will change. Don’t believe that lie – change doesn’t happen without intentionality. Neither believe that change doesn’t come without a price. You can have all the action steps and change theory you want in place but know this, change always has a price, especially when you are dealing with cultural change. Sacrificing money is easy compared to what you will have to sacrifice with leadership by obedience.

The biggest challenge of leadership by obedience? It isn’t self-centeredness or glorifying yourself. It’s disillusionment with what you know the truth to be but bald-faced rejection of the people who say they love God giving reasons why we don’t have to love or reach out to others. It’s discouragement – when we speak prophetically we can expect people to get angry and leave us. If you’ve built your entire ministry around God’s blessing is equal to a growing crowd – you’re really going to struggle in this season – I have. It’s hard to see people leave because your expanding the gospel beyond your own “culture” or “tribe” to all people. It’s despair – wanting to give up and quit – it’s just too hard and no one really cares.

But, I’ve also hung in there long enough to see the fruit from “doing the right thing.” I am connected to the world and minorities in ways that I never would have dreamed. It has opened doors that I never would have imagined or knew were even an option. Here’s something else, leadership by obedience is incredibly critical because it sees a future harvest. If things are not put right, there is no future for a loveless discriminating church. Even now, millennials are so turned off by church in America because of the hypocrisy and that will not change anytime soon. No amount of lights, smoke, and celebrity leaders will lead us out of this desert. Things were going so good in Isaiah chapter one, big attendance, fasting, great offerings – but God wasn’t pleased. The corporate nature of sin even in the church eventually catches up with us.

I would also say that leadership by obedience demands a stronger walk with God, a focus more on his Kingdom and the eternal. I’ve learned that the world is reached not because of a pure church but in spite of a flawed church – read Acts & Corinthians. These things are not new. Acts is the story of the church growing, coming up against various prejudices, dealing with them and growing more. In American Christianity we’ve settled for crowds without realizing who isn’t present – as long as someone is present. The result is the church is very tribal, partisan, vs being an entity that embraces and makes space for all wanting to follow Jesus.

This is more about who we “are to be” for God than it is what are “going to do” for God.

Seven lessons I learned in Abu Dhabi

30 Leaders from 10 different cities gathered together in Abu Dhabi early May 2017 for a Multi-Faith event. Every city leadership had representations of the three Abrahamic faith; Christians, Muslim, and Rabbis. The goal is to build bridges of relationships, develop trust and work towards a strategic plan that would bring peace and reconciliation to their cities. They created plans to eat meals together as families; to bring their constituencies together to break down the walls of separation and work together to see the prosperity of their city. They committed to standing up for each other in the face of religious persecution and get involved in global affairs in promoting peace among religions and to speak up against religious persecution worldwide.

This event was a collaborative effort between three organizations; Glocalnet, International Interfaith Peace Corp and the Forum for Peace. Glocalnet led by Dr. Bob Roberts and IIPC led by Imam Magid Mohamed, have been working together for years bringing Pastors and Imams together on a retreat called “Building Bridges of Faith”. This retreat has been designed to break down walls of suspicion, build a foundation of trust and create a pathway to peace and reconciliation in their cities. Forum of Peace led by Sheikh Bin Bayyah a world-renowned Muslim scholar and the United Arab Emirates sponsored this retreat in Abu Dhabi in May 2017 and invited Rabbis to join for the first time. It was a historic event; the first of it’s kind.

The leadership of each city returned with a strategic plan to execute the vision to promote peace and to work together to build stronger and more resilient communities of faith.

These are some lessons I walked away with.

 

  1. Every Religion has peacemakers. Find them and work with them for the common good. These are people of peace who wield massive influence. Influence many times is greater than power, for influence has the ability to move the masses as it frequently affects the heart not only the head.
  2. Love is stronger than hate. The force of love is much more powerful than hate. When religious leaders decide to love all people regardless of their differences and choose love over hate, it changes the environments of our cities and communities.
  3. Generosity is a powerful force. It is not a passive sentiment but a powerful action that moves the heart of others. It puts pressure on the soul of others for good. The leader of this region led by Sheikh Bin Bayyah showed great generosity toward the strangers and visitors and it warmed the heart of all who attended.
  4. If not us, then who? Just because we do not share common beliefs does not mean we do not share a common humanity. Religions of all people carry an ethos of what Rabbi Sacks calls “ethics of responsibility”. We of all people should be the first to put into action love and care for people. The best of our faiths should always move us to love and harmony not hate and wars.
  5. We are all truly created in the image of God. We are all children of Adam and Eve. Our journey through life and religions shapes us. However, if you look beneath the layers of beliefs and philosophies we developed as we have grown from childhood to adulthood, you will find a common humanity. A desire for family, peace, friendship and community. We all desire to be known and loved. We were not created to be alone therefore God made us to remove the aloneness of each other.
  6. Hospitality is a powerful practice. Eating meals together and listening to each other’s story breaks down the walls of suspicion and separation. Eating meals together is not some flippant thing we do. It is the core of what we do. Food creates an environment like no other. It values the other at its very essence as we share each other’s culture.
  7. Laughter brings people together like nothing else. When people laugh with each other it creates a bond. It speaks of a God who has given to us such a precious gift that allows us to forget for a moment, all of our differences and troubles and elevates us to a place that is transcendent. Rabbi Noach Wienbergs says, “Laughter is an opportunity to transcend limitations that bind us to see God more clearly.”

 

There is a need for a grassroots movement that will create friendship among religious leaders of all different faiths. “Dealing with religious actors is the major missing ingredient,” says Pastor Bob Roberts, President of Glocalnet and one of the leading Christian leaders promoting peace among all religions. It is time to capitalize on the extensive ties of faith leaders and develop a grassroots movement that is built on trust and respect for each other and seek to collaborate with our academic, political, and institutional efforts to bring positive change to this world.